The Poor, Elderly, and Rural Americans Will Be Hit Hardest
The U.S. Postal Service (USPS) is reportedly considering a strategic plan that would severely erode the quality of first-class mail delivery, its most popular product with the American people. According to a February 12 article in The Washington Post, USPS wants to eliminate the two-day standard for delivering first-class mail to a local address and instead lump it into a three- to five-day delivery window.
The American people deserve much better. And for decades they had much better.
From 1971-2012 USPS had a one-day delivery standard for first-class mail. USPS delivered 42 percent of first-class mail in one day in 2011, 57 percent in two to three days, and the remaining one percent in four to five days.
Mail delivery standards were previously degraded in 2012. Starting then, USPS had at least two days to make first-class mail delivery. USPS never met these new, lower standards. In six of the past eight years, service declined further culminating in the currently abysmal service levels.
Despite all this, first-class mail is alive and well in the United States as USPS’s most profitable business line. For fiscal year 2020, USPS reported 52.6 billion pieces of first-class mail were sent, resulting in revenues of $23.8 billion.
While the Internet has reduced first-class mail volume by 32 percent over the past 10 years, many Americans either must, or want to, use first-class mail.
Tens of millions of Americans do not have high-speed Internet service. According to the Federal Communications Commission, in 2018 18.3 million Americans lacked access to fixed-terrestrial high-speed Internet. Most of these were people in rural areas. Even with access, high-speed Internet is still not affordable to many.
Other Americans, including many senior citizens, simply prefer to use the mail and they should not be penalized. Many choose to pay their bills by mail because of identity theft, or concerns about cyberattacks make them wary of using the Internet for financial transactions.
In 2011, Fredric Rolando, president of the National Association of Letter Carriers, raised prophetic concerns about USPS’s plans to significantly lower its first-class mail standard. “High-quality service is essential to preserving the value of our networks and to any future growth strategy. Degrading standards not only hurts the public and the businesses we service, it is also counterproductive for the Postal Service because it will drive more people away from using the mail,” Rolando said to The New York Times.
He was right. It would be tragic for USPS to repeat the same mistake twice.
A better course is for USPS to establish a business plan which will provide high-quality first-class mail service that preserves this $23 billion a year business. To get there it should clearly separate mail from package operations, including having a separate balance sheet for its mail business so that costs and pricing are clear.
Americans are willing to pay a few cents more for higher postage and guaranteed delivery times. For many, this is a better deal than assorted costs, such as credit card penalties for “late” bill payments and the cost of high-speed Internet.
Regulators at the Postal Regulatory Commission and Congress should demand that USPS fix its current deficiencies in service and advocate for the American people to have a truly first-class mail program.
About the Author: Paul Steidler is a Senior Fellow with the Lexington Institute, a public policy think tank based in Arlington, Virginia.
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